CASA volunteers lookout for interests of at-risk children
by GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer
Apr 06, 2014 | 462 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In 1976, tragically, Cleveland and Bradley County’s name was embroiled in one of the most heinous crimes committed against a child.

Melisha Gibson was 4 years old when she was killed at the hands of her stepfather and mother.

In 2008, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) entered Bradley County through the Athens CASA Corridor — then a short time later, CASA of Bradley County was formed.

Shortly after being established — in fact just months after and executive board was named as well as an executive director was chosen — the inaugural Melisha Gibson “Moonlight Walk of Hope” was planned and executed.

Suzanne Wisdom is the executive director of CASA of Bradley, Polk and the Ocoee Regional Family Advocates.

CASA of Bradley volunteers oversee children who get caught up in the court system and look out for their interests.

“The Melisha Gibson ‘Light of Hope’ Moonlight Walk is held in honor of her short life. Her story is one of Bradley County’s prolific tragedies in the sense that laws were changed. It was sad that it took a child of abuse losing their life to raise eyebrows of lawmakers to make these changes,” explained Wisdom.

Approximately 200 children now have volunteer advocates representing them in Bradley and Polk County courtrooms.

CASA is a national nonprofit organization that trains volunteers to serve as guardians “ad litem,” or in behalf of, children in the court system. That basically means if a child is involved in a custody battle or has been taken from his or her home, a CASA volunteer might be appointed by a judge to step in and serve as a voice for the child, according to Wisdom.

Because a child is not a “legal citizen,” he or she does not have rights in the courtroom and therefore cannot express wishes.

The advocate investigates the case and prepares a report for what they believe is in the best interest of the child.

It is the goal of CASA to keep the natural family together if at all possible while keeping the child out of harm’s way, according to Wisdom.

For more information or to volunteer, visit CASA of Bradley County’s website, www.ocoeeadvocates.org.